Police Testimony In Peterson Trial Leads To Mistrial Request
Associated Press Writer
Updated June 14, 2004
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP) -- A crumpled throw rug, a wet mop, dirty towels. The items seemed out of place in the otherwise tidy household Laci Peterson kept.
But there was something else that aroused the suspicions of the first police officers to enter the home: Scott Peterson's alibi.
He told Modesto authorities he had been fishing alone on San Francisco Bay that Christmas Eve morning, nearly 100 miles away, but couldn't say what he was trying to catch. He said when he returned home, his pregnant wife was gone.
Immediately suspicious, Modesto police added up the out-of-place items and Peterson's story and decided to call in a detective, a pair of officers testified at Peterson's capital murder trial Monday.
Those recollections dribbled out in a heated day of testimony which included a request for a mistrial, which the judge quickly denied. Now in its third week, the case has entered the stage where lawyers are jousting over a police investigation which prosecutors say shows Peterson killed his wife and defense lawyers say was bungled from the start.
Two of the first officers to search Peterson's house in the hours after his wife was reported missing described a ``model home'' with little out of place and a husband whose fishing story didn't quite catch.
Both also said Peterson became agitated after they questioned him.
Modesto police officer Derrick Letsinger said Peterson ``threw his flashlight down on the ground,'' before mumbling a curse word.
Later, officer Matthew Spurlock testified ``I heard what sounded like a cuss word ... it came through what sounded like gritted teeth.''
To this, defense attorney Mark Geragos loudly objected and the judge removed the jury from the courtroom.
Geragos said the claims did not appear in any police report and this was the first he heard of Peterson's reaction.
``It's all of a sudden fabricated,'' Geragos told Judge Alfred A. Delucchi, his voice pitched.
Under state law, he said, such a revelation must be turned over to the defense prior to testimony.
``It's nothing but a cheap shot,'' Geragos replied angrily ``a never ending series of cheap shots by this prosecution.''
Distaso tried to interrupt.
``I want to finish. Do you mind?'' Geragos said, moments before the judge admonished the two to stop speaking over one another.
After asking that the testimony be stricken from the record, Geragos asked for a mistrial, a request greeted by an eruption of guffaws in the courtroom gallery.
``I don't need laughter from the audience,'' Geragos said, later referring to the crowd as the ``peanut gallery.''
Delucchi denied Geragos' mistrial motion.
It was the angriest exchange to date in the double-murder trial of Peterson, who is charged with killing his wife in their home on or around Dec. 24, 2002. Police say he then dumped her body from his small boat into San Francisco Bay on what he said was a solo fishing trip. His attorneys have speculated someone else abducted Laci Peterson while she walked the dog.
The remains of Laci Peterson and her fetus washed ashore nearly four months later, just two miles from where Peterson claims he launched his fishing trip. Peterson, 31, could face the death penalty or life without parole if convicted.
Geragos continued hammering the officers, pointing out discrepancies in their stories.
While Letsinger said he became suspicious after touring the home and seeing the crumpled rug, dirty towels on the washing machine and a wet mop out back in an otherwise ``model home,'' Spurlock said things seemed in order.
``I didn't see anything that made me believe there was anything out of the ordinary,'' Spurlock said. ``It appeared to be a normal house.''
Spurlock also said a third officer who first entered the home, while Letsinger testified just he and Spurlock were the first officers inside.
Geragos has charged police with conducting a sloppy investigation, leaving details out of police reports and focusing too quickly on Peterson.
Under fierce questioning from Geragos, Letsinger then acknowledged that police did not test the home with a chemical that can detect unseen traces of blood and body fluids called Luminol.
Letsinger said the crime scene technician didn't have the items he needed to do those tests.
Spurlock said what made him suspicious was Peterson's story.
He said when he asked Peterson what he had been fishing for ``he had this blank look on his face ... and blew off my question.''
He then asked Peterson what bait he was using.
``Again, I got the same type of response, kind of blank stare, shifting of the eye,'' Spurlock said. Peterson later told him he had used a 7-inch silver lure.
However, Spurlock acknowledged under cross examination that the scene was frantic and Peterson could have been taken off guard by the questions.
``It could have been a natural response to what was going on?'' Geragos asked.
``Sure could have,'' Spurlock said.